• Journal Article

State fragility and failure as wicked problems: Beyond naming and taming

Citation

Brinkerhoff, D. (2014). State fragility and failure as wicked problems: Beyond naming and taming. Third World Quarterly, 35(2), 333-344. DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2014.878495

Abstract

Conceptualising state fragility and failure as a wicked problem set reveals the complex, ill-defined and interdependent nature of the reality behind these labels. This essay builds on the contributions to this special issue by examining why the fragile/failed state concept remains in good currency despite its analytic weaknesses. The discussion reveals that the parsing of state fragility into its component parts and the development of related indicators reflect efforts to tame the wickedness of the problem set; this has led to peace-building and state-building interventions whose plans and actions do not effectively take account of what is necessary to achieve their intended aims. A better problem-solving match would look beyond naming and taming, incorporating lessons from the implementation literature and international development practice. However, achieving this would depend upon the political will of both labellers and the labelled.